Why Every Day Should Be Labor Day (In Shipping And Fulfillment)

September 6, 2018 by Harry Drajpuch

Earlier this summer, one of my colleagues blogged about Flag Day, a national holiday that’s undoubtedly one of our most forgotten.   This week, I’d like to call your attention to another overlooked American celebration, even though you may not think of it as such. 

I’m talking about a holiday that just passed -- Labor Day.

“But Harry,” you might say, “I didn’t forget Labor Day.  In fact I spent it at the beach/lake/cabin with my family.”  (And you’re not alone.  So did almost everyone.)  However, 5 bucks says that most of us probably DIDN’T take a moment to salute the unsung heroes who made our three-day weekend and sunburns possible. 

shipping and fulfillment servicesSo allow me to refresh all of our memories:  Labor Day was created to honor American workers.  And even in today’s systems-driven world, that’s a hugely important group to salute. 

Unfortunately, it’s also an easy group to underestimate, especially during the 3PL selection process. 

As evidence, consider the typical shipping and fulfillment services RFP.  It’s often chock-full of questions about things like technologies, fulfillment pricing, parcel processes and potential cost savings.  By contrast, few companies think to ask about how a potential 3PL manages and motivates its people.  

Think about the last fulfillment center site visit you made.  My guess is you spent most of your time looking at and discussing the facility and its automation, not talking to the people who handle the order fulfillment process and how they maximize their time and workload.

Here at Amware, we take the subject of people personally (and yes, the pun is intended). 

Maybe it’s because we know how people-intensive most order picking operations are.   Or perhaps it’s because we know there’s a huge logistics labor shortage in fulfillment – and that the smartest companies are the ones that work hard to attract and retain good shipping and fulfillment talent when they find it.

In fact, if we could name just one thing that we wish most eTailers, direct sellers, and subscription companies did differently, it would be this:   Before you sign on the dotted line, take a closer look at how all of your potential 3PL candidates hire, support, and interact with their people – and how they might potentially interact with you. It’s that important and that game-changing.

Along these lines, some questions to ask might include:

  • What does your training process look like and how long does it take? If a potential shipping and fulfillment 3PL can’t really tell you, that’s a red flag.  Ditto if its onboarding process is so short that it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of thing.
  • How often do you have all-facility meetings, who leads them, and what kinds of topics do they cover? Associates always appreciate knowing that they’re part of a bigger picture, including understanding how their performance impacts a company’s overall success.  We’re huge advocates of frequently sharing clients’ KPI goals and updates with our associates.  Just as important, we’re big fans of “skip level” meetings (i.e. meetings that take place between our senior team and associates who work on the fulfillment center floor without their managers or supervisors present) because they allow us to be extra-sure all of our associates’ needs and suggestions are being heard.  
  • Can I have your CEO’s phone number? There’s no better way to test a candidate’s claim that you’ll have full access to company leadership than knowing that you can actually pick up the phone, dial the top executive and either get an answer or have your call returned.  
  • What’s your associate retention rate, and how does that compare to the industry average?  An excellent rate of retention (such as Amware’s, which is currently twice as high as the industry average) suggests that a shipping and fulfillment 3PL is probably doing a good job of treating its people right.  By contrast, a higher than average rate of turnover might be cause for concern. 

You may also wish to look at:

  • The kinds of equipment personnel are using. If it looks broken, antiquated or poorly maintained, take note, because unless 3PLs are giving associates the right tools for the job, their success will be limited.
  • Whether candidates have an active associate suggestion program in place.  Nothing motivates associates more than knowing that their opinions are valued, including the possibility of having some of their ideas implemented.
  • How the managers who provide you with facility tours engage with associates on the warehouse floor. Companies can say they have a tight-knit organization that treats associates like names rather than numbers all they want.  But the proof is in the pudding. 

Labor Day 2018 has passed, but it’s not too late to celebrate and thank the people who do the hard work of picking, packing, and shipping orders.  Without them, America’s online economy grinds to a halt. 

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Filed Under: Third Party Logistics, Logistics Outsourcing, eCommerce Fulfillment